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Understanding Excessive Key vs Low Key Lighting

Being a photographer signifies that you employ gentle to construct your artistic imaginative and prescient. If you select the lighting of your topic or your scene, you’re deciding a complete temper.

This temper determines what the viewer will really feel and suppose when your {photograph}. Excessive key and low key lighting are two efficient lighting types that may provide help to with this.

On this article, you may be taught what excessive key and low key lighting types are. You’ll additionally discover some recommendations on the best way to obtain these setups within the studio or management the sunshine outside.

And eventually, we’ll undergo which conditions are higher to make use of one or the opposite. So carry on studying.

What’s Excessive Key Lighting?

High key lighting is often used to create a dreamy or pure effect with brightness in shots.

Excessive Secret’s generally mistaken for {a photograph} the place every part is white. Sure, that will be an instance of excessive key, but it surely’s not the one one.

A excessive key picture is vivid, with a superbly lit topic and background, and has a dominance of sunshine tones. General it has very little contrast.

As you see, it doesn’t imply there received’t be any darkish areas, solely that they’re stored to a minimal. And also you’re additionally not constrained to make use of solely white backgrounds, you may go together with cream colours or pastel tones.

(See additionally: common photography terms).

When to Use Excessive Key Lighting

You need to use Excessive Key Lighting with any form of pictures. It may swimsuit style, portraits, still-life, industrial, or every other style.

It does, nevertheless, talk a really particular message of peace, purity, and pleasure. That’s why it’s higher for sure topics.

For instance, in portrait pictures, excessive key lighting is finest for kids, newborns, and brides. In still-life, it may be used for spring-related scenes. In industrial pictures, it’s usually utilized by manufacturers which might be related to sophistication.

So, you wish to use excessive key lighting when your pictures are youthful and joyful, pure and clear, or minimalist and chic.

What’s Low Key Lighting?

That is the alternative of the excessive key. Low key lighting creates very darkish photographs with excessive distinction. They’re designed particularly to create a dramatic and intense ambiance.

Once more, it’s not about having every part black and no lights. Although typically, there’s just one supply of sunshine to spotlight part of the topic and the remainder is stored within the shadows.

This manner many of the values stay at the hours of darkness aspect of the spectrum. There must be only a few whites, however they are going to be very intense to create the highlights. The mid-tones are often stored to a minimal.

Low key photographs are utilized by photographers to create a really particular temper, but it surely’s additionally about going with the development. Within the final years, it’s been extremely popular for city pictures, meals pictures and industrial pictures specialised in electronics.

When to Use Low Key Lighting

Similar to with excessive key lighting, it may be used for any pictures style. It simply has to suit the precise atmosphere that you just wish to set.

The results of low key lighting is a really dramatic picture, with tension and mystery. That’s why sure topics work higher than others.

It’s additionally extremely popular for ‘moody’ photographs. When you go to Instagram and seek for moody or any related hashtag like #moodyfood or #moodygrams, you’ll discover that a lot of them are low key.

Excessive Key Lighting Pictures Suggestions

Lighting high key photos can give drama to a composition.

Credit score: William F. Santos

The concept of excessive key originated in lighting schemes for movies. It used three lights: the primary one which illuminated the topic was the excessive key. The opposite two can be a backlight and a fill gentle.

This doesn’t imply that you just completely must make your excessive key pictures in a studio with three lights. You can even do them with pure lighting.

The vital factor is that every part within the body is nicely lit, creating very smooth shadows. You need to get the publicity even all through the scene so that you just don’t have any contrasting elements.

Within the Studio

Be sure you gentle the background evenly. If it’s a giant space, you might require two lights, one on either side.

Then place a light-weight in your topic and a fill gentle that may be one step darker (no more since you don’t need any robust shadows).

Additionally, maintain your background and props in a variety of whites or pastels since you wish to maintain the darkish values to a minimal.

Chances are you’ll even wish to think about a three point lighting arrange in case you have sufficient gear.


If as an alternative you’re going to shoot outdoors and use pure gentle, attempt to do it on a cloudy day. This can work as a pure softbox.

If this isn’t doable, place your topic in a shadowy space and use diffusers and reflectors to manage the sunshine and maintain the low distinction.

When you really feel it suits the scene, you would possibly wish to overexpose half a step or so – just a bit in an effort to maintain every part vivid.

Low Key Lighting Pictures Suggestions

Lighting high key light is bright while low key images focus on darkness and contrast. Rights reserved NeONBRAND

Credit score: NeONBRAND

The primary concept is that almost all of the scene is stored darkish, and there’s solely a spotlight on the topic.

Whether or not you’re using studio lights or taking pictures outside, it’s best to expose to the highlights in order that every part else stays within the shadows.

Use a black matt backdrop or another darkish colour. Preserve the garments of your topic or any props used additionally in deep colours or shades.

Within the Studio

If you wish to shoot low key photographs within the studio, you solely want to make use of one gentle supply. If it’s a tough gentle that’s even better.

You need to use gentle modifiers like snoots to direct the sunshine onto your topic and forestall it from spilling into the background.


When you don’t wish to {photograph} within the studio, then your finest wager is to work at evening. Discover gentle sources that may gentle your topic, like road lamps.

You can even do low key with pure daylight, but it surely’s harder and limiting. You would need to discover a method to block many of the gentle, so ensure you plan your location and put together your gear and props.

One method to ‘kill’ the ambient gentle is to make use of a quick shutter velocity mixed with high-speed-sync. Attempt to shoot a number of of the identical scene in an effort to minimise your probabilities of color banding, which may happen when taking pictures at excessive speeds indoors.

Excessive Key vs Low Key Lighting FAQs

  • Why would you employ excessive key lighting?

Excessive key lighting is used to create brightly lit scenes and topics the place there’s extra gentle and fewer shadow. Further lights are used to extend the quantity of sunshine on the scene and to scale back the quantity of distinction. Excessive key lighting is used for photographing merchandise, meals, and make-up.

  • What does low key lighting point out?

Low key lighting is a lighting method usually used to create a extra dramatic scene the place the distinction and shadows are considerably elevated.  The distinction is additional enhanced via the usage of tougher lighting to have areas nicely lit versus these in shadow.

  • How is excessive key lighting completed?

Excessive key lighting requires sufficient ambient gentle to successfully brighten all areas of the scene. The ambient gentle consists of pure gentle, speedlights, LEDs, and strobes. The trick to right excessive key lighting is to realize a good quantity of sunshine throughout the entire scene to scale back shadows and distinction.

  • What function in your digital camera means that you can compensate or override excessive or low key lighting eventualities?

To compensate or override excessive or low key lighting eventualities, use the guide aperture management, or Aperture Precedence settings in your digital camera/lens. In excessive key lighting conditions, you may scale back the quantity of sunshine by deciding on a slender aperture. In low key lighting eventualities, use a large aperture to permit as a lot gentle as doable to enter the lens.

  • What’s the distinction between excessive key and low key lighting?

The distinction between excessive key and low key lighting comes right down to the quantity of sunshine. Excessive key lighting requires extra gentle to push again shadows and create much less distinction. Low key lighting requires much less lighting to create stronger shadows and better ranges of distinction.

  • How do you seize drama with low key lighting?

To seize drama with low key lighting, profit from deep shadows and powerful distinction. Distinction is a vital device in defining texture, depth and enhancing the looks of topics. Shadows significantly support in including drama and intrigue to a picture as our minds think about what’s hidden within the shadows versus what we are able to see.

Lighting Types | Ultimate Phrases


As you may see, the identical topic could be photographed with excessive key lighting or low key lighting. The selection relies on your private type and the message you wish to ship.

For instance, a model can be photographed in a excessive key and low key lighting setup to inform two totally different tales.

Use excessive key for a company portrait that conjures up belief within the purchasers and motivates the workers. Or use a low key type that highlights his or her eyes for a dramatic and moody portrait that emphasizes their visionary character.

Hopefully, this text helped you perceive each lighting types so you may select which one works higher for you the following time you do a photoshoot.

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